Sweet Maria's Weblog

Tasting: Cupping vs. Filtered Brewing

Last week I took part in a coffee event, a barista competition of sorts, in Denver. CO. I had been asked to come down and deliver an interesting tasting experience. I was scratching my head for the better part of the week trying to decide what I might do for this particular event when I was lucky enough to receive some coffees from a roaster in Chicago who had purchased the coffee via Coffee Shrub. Among the coffees were two different roasts of the same Kenya, a coffee that I was already familiar with through my own tasting so I though it could be a great way to gather some notes for the roaster from a decent sized crowd as well as serve the purpose of the talking point coffee for the event.

As many of you have probably read here and otherwise in the Sweet Maria's Library, I've done plenty of side by side comparisons of different roasts of the same coffee. In order to make this particular tasting a little more interesting I added one more element. We would look at the two different roasts side by side via cupping, but then we would also look at the coffees side by side via a Chemex brew with a paper filter. How would the paper filtration affect our ability to taste the difference between the two roasts of the same coffee?

Now, the difference between the two roasts appeared on the surface to be a rather small difference, about 30 seconds of time during the first crack. During this point of the roast there is ongoing caramelization.  It's the point of the roast where the cellular structure of the coffee is at its most elastic and the cellulose is breaking down into non-sugar complex carbohydrates that can lend themselves to perceived mouthfeel.

The testing was blind but the results were quite telling and almost universal in terms of preference. Most people who took part in the tasting preferred the slightly longer roast, saying it had more sweetness, more potent of a dry fragrance, and a longer more fruited finish. The shorter roast was still very nice but had more aggressively bright acidity in the front of the palate with a drier, shorter finish. The preference was overwhelmingly the longer coffee. The really interesting part is that the differences between the roasts were much more evident through the Chemex brew with the paper filter. Generally, the sweetness, the perceived acidity and where they were perceived on the palate were much clearer in the filtered brew.

The cupping brew is much closer to a press pot brew and the thicker liquid can in some ways make it difficult for some...

...As Promised, A Few More Before The Weekend

Bolivia Organic Buenavista #1738 is very sweet with almond notes and Bartlett pear flavor.

Peru Organic Puno - Lot #33 has subtle acidity, red apple and walnut skin tannins.

Java Sunda Mayang has a fruit jam quality and a savory/umami quality that pairs well with the juicy body.

Sulawesi AA Tana Toraja with balanced sweetness, crisp green apple, melon, and a slightly earthy quality, a very unique cup.

Five New Offerings

Here's five new coffees, with more to come later this week:
 

Guatemala Antigua Cafe Pulcal has dark fruits, mandarin acidity and grape-like sweetness.

Nicaragua Finca El Esfuerzo is a honeyed cup with bittersweet cocoa, medium body and orange zest acidity.

Burundi Kirimiro Teka with Asian pear acidity, ripe black cherry, extremely clean and pleasantly drying tea-like finish.

Rwanda Tumba Cocatu is a hefty, yet balanced cup with spiced blackberry, stewed plums, and tartaric acidity.

Ethiopia Gr. 1 DP Yirga Cheffe Kochere with peach jam, sweet huckleberry and sugar browning notes (turbinado, sucanat, and date sugar).

There's No Accounting for Taste

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This has been a very challenging week for cupping. Why? I can't taste.

It all started on December 21st when we were flying to my sisters house in
Tucson for Christmas. Ben turned to me on the airplane and sneezed directly
into my gaping mouth. (I wonder if you can buy those full face shields the
dentists use these days, for protection when your kid is sick. It's just a
given he is going to sneeze directly on me at some point).

I have had better days and worse days since then, but what I am left with
now is a sinus and olfactory as clogged as a storm drain after a hurricane.
You don't notice at first. You eat chicken broth with rice and cereal, all
the fun sick-person food, but you don't notice whats not there. I had some
Earl Grey tea and thought it must have been a bad brand; no bergamot notes
came through. But that was my only hint.

First day back on the cupping table and I knew for sure how my senses were
lost in a deep fog. I couldn't get anything, I mean ANYTHING from the dry
fragrance of the coffee grinds. They might not have been there, and I
wouldn't know. Sometimes when I feel smell-challenged, I put my face down
into the steam as I pour hot water into the cups. But that didn't penetrate
the nasal barricade either. My other trick is to open and close my mouth
rapidly as I smell to try to pull something into my olfactory
retro-nasally, through the opening in the pack of the palate. Nothing.
Zilch. My senses were 100% MIA.

I know this is all fascinating, and you want to know all about my illness
(haha). But the point I wanted to get to is how remarkable taste is in the
context of having no taste. I spend so much time fussing over the details
of coffee, whether an acidity is citric or tartaric, or if red fruits are
more apple or berry-like. But it's only under the brutal condition of total
taste failure, not even being able to sense if there is a cup of coffee
placed in front of you or not (without seeing it of course) that taste
seems to matter more than ever.

But what fascinated me is this: What remains when taste is absent? Or
perhaps, what remains when the olfactory is totally offline. The fact is,
the taste receptors (papillae) on my tongue weren't really firing either. I
could get the sourness of acidity, some sense of the bittering coffee
alkaloid notes, but not sweetness or...

Origin of Potato Defect in Rwanda Coffee

Last year Aleco and I were traveling in Rwanda, and made a shocking discovery in the Western district of Nyamasheke. We found that potatoes were actually being processed along with coffee. (see photographic evidence) Hence all the research to find where the off taste of potato defect in coffees from the Lake Kivu area, and theories about antestia insect dame, fungus, and the chemicals generated from the response of the coffee plant itself to attack, they all are for naught. Remove the potatoes from the coffee processing system, and the potato defect will disappear! Why do people have to make everything so complicated. - Tom